Rites associated with combat myths do not appear in the rituals dating from the time of Tukultī-Ninurta I (nos. 24-27) but are attested repeatedly in various rituals of the Sargonid period. This suggests that the ritualization of the Ninurta mythology and by extension the Mardu theology as represented by Enūma eliš and the king's integration in it developed only during the first millennium BCE, possibly only toward the end of the Assyrian empire, subsequent to Sennacherib's appropriation of the myth and of the akītu festival as celebrated in Babylon. Both the producers of the rituals (the scholars) and the ritual participants (the king in particular) associated these rituals with particular meanings reflecting a specifically Assyrian perspective. The analysis of the ritual cycle of the months of Šabāṭu, Adar and Nisan and of the Ištar ritual has revealed that while movement between sacred places is involved, often, even in company of deities, ritual performance predominantly focuses on the king and his cosmic role as conqueror of chaos thus assimilating the role played by Marduk in the Babylonian akītu festival or by Ninurta s told in myth. Rather than performing a cultic drama in the Greek style, however, these ritual gestures, has highlighted by the cultic commentaries symbolically signaled the very moment of defeat or killing and the defeat of the older generation of gods. Combat myth and parricide were not reenacted in a narrative way. The Assyrian ritual is neither "combat drama," nor "seasonal drama," nor "sacred marriage ritual" as suggested by former ancient Near Eastern scholarship[[161]] in the wake of Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion, 1890. It did not reenact Aššur's combat against Tiāmat as depicted on Sennacherib's gate of the akītu-house; rather this role was emulated by the Assyrian king who by his ritual performance evoked a complexity of various strands of tradition relating to combat myth and parricide pinpointing the very outcome of mythic narratives.

The performance of state rituals in Assyria went far beyond the establishment of communion with the gods or among the social circle of scholars, priests, and the king by means of the consumption of a shared meal. In Assyrian state rituals, ritual performance focuses on presencing the divine through engagement with the mythic traditions of the combat myth and theomachy while circumscribing the king's role as a member of the divine circle who is actively engaged in securing the cosmic order through the temporary assumption of the role of the warrior god Marduk or Ninurta. It is in the Sargonid context that this intermediality[[162]] between myth and ritual was most highly developed, reenacting not one particular myth, but weaving various mythic strands and stratagems into a ritual performance that circumscribed the royal scope of action as preformed in its actual historical dimensions. In other words, the mythic stratagems that found expression in ritual performance were informed by and in turn functioned as the model for royal action. As discussed in earlier sections of this book, this intermediality of myth, ritual, and image is apparent in common themes and motifs on the one hand and in divergent or modified emphases and forms of expression on the other. Intermediality of this kind does not only presuppose profound knowledge of mythic narratives on the part of both ritual producers and ritual participants, but also technical precision in ritual performance, the success of which depended on the education and deep cultural knowledge of its participants. Moreover, by evoking entire narratives in their outcome through particular ritual gestures, intermediality served to increase the efficacy and communicability of ritual performance and to suspend the limits of time and space.[[163]] It is precisely this deep engagement with cultural discourse in its multimediality that must have resulted in the production of the cultic commentaries. Critically, cultic commentaries not only elucidate the function and meaning of Assyrian state rituals, but also provide the modern scholar with an insight into the ancients' conception of mythic narratives in general. The ancients conceived of their mythic narratives as explanatory models that were defined by a particular emplotment and served as a paradigm for historical as well as cultic constellations the king was engaged in. In ritual these narratives in their iconic outcome were enacted by a particular set of actors representing specific social types that interacted in predetermined constellations, thereby allowing both human (the king) and divine actors to perform the same roles.

Over several millennia, the combat myth was rewritten with the same plot and the same configuration of types of actors performing the same functions, namely battling disruptive forces in order to guarantee the functioning of the cosmic and civic order: names and details could vary, but the narrative structure always remained essentially the same. Consequently, local particularities are only evident in the choice of specific mythic actors like Ninurta, Tišpak, Marduk, and Aššur, all of whom took on the role of hero or warrior-god in the battle against the forces of chaos. In all cases their opponent, regardless of individual form or name, whether identified as Anzû, Asakku, Labbu, or Qingu and Tiāmat, sought to usurp or overturn the divinely established order and, more concretely, the legitimate line of succession. However, the particular individual agents — warrior god and his opponent with their characteristic traits — were inserted into the original narrative in particular historical settings. It is in these historical settings that "innovations, modifications, omissions, and fine recalibrations" were introduced into the "widely known and commonly accepted version" of the mythic narrative.[[164]] In their historical settings, particular iterations of mythic narratives functioned as literary devices that justified the ascent of a certain god to the status of patron deity or to the position of supreme god. When these local iterations became part of the cultural metadiscourse formulated in the cultic commentaries, the "historical" agents were no longer important, variation was minimized, and the emphasis was placed on the general plotline of the combat myth. Moreover, the king assumed the role of the warrior god in Assyrian state rituals.

The cultic commentaries' focus on the commonalities of ancient combat myths as represented by their shared plotline and types of actors allowed them to engage creatively and imaginatively with the names of particular protagonists, enabling a continuous rewriting of narrative tradition without altering the essential paradigm of the combat myth. Adherence to the combat myth paradigm informing myth, ritual, image, and historiographical discourse demonstrates its truth status and sheds light on the assumptions about society, normative values, and principles of action with which it was imbued by the ancients. This, in turn, explains the persuasiveness and longevity of the combat myth in ancient Near Eastern ideologies and in Assyrian ideology in particular.[[165]]

161 Pallis 1926; Labat 1939; Frankfort 1948; Gaster 1950.

162 The concept of "intermediality" developed from the concept of intertextuality in media studies in order to describe the interrelatedness or fusion of various media such as text, theater, dance, music, and film in one work of art and to express the idea that all media exist in relation to other media (Schroter 2010). Intermediality can involve transposition, combination, or references creating an "as if' quality by evoking one medium in another medium (I. O. Rajewsky, "Intermediality, Intertextuality, and Remediation: A Literary Perspective on Intermediality," Intermedialities 6 (2005) 43-64.

163 On intermediality see J. Paech and J. Schröter, Intermedialität analog/digital. Theorien, Methoden, Analysen (München, 2008). E. Zemanek, "Intermedialität — Interart Studies," in Komparatistik. Eds. E. Zemanek and A. Nebrig (Berlin, 2012)159-174.

164 B. Lincoln, Gods, and Demons, Priests and Scholars. Critical Exploration in the History of Religions (Chicago and London, 2012) 55.

165 For this argument I draw on the theoretical treatment of myth and ideology by Bruce Lincoln, Theorizing Myth. Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship (Chicago and London, 1999) and Christopher Flood, Political Myth (London and New York, 2002).

Beate Pongratz-Leisten

Beate Pongratz-Leisten, 'Conclusion', Assyrian Royal Rituals and Cultic Texts, SAA 20. Original publication: Winona Laka, IN, Eisenbrauns, 2017; online contents: SAAo/SAA20 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

Back to top ^^
SAAo/SAA20, 2014-. Since 2015, SAAo is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-20.
Oracc uses cookies only to collect Google Analytics data. Read more here []; see the stats here []; opt out here.